On War - title image

Carl von Clausewitz

[Table of Contents]

NOTE: This version of Carl von Clausewitz's On War is the long-obsolete J.J. Graham translation of Clausewitz's Vom Kriege (1832) published in London in 1873. The 1976/84 Howard/Paret version is the  standard translation today; for the most accurate text one should always consult the 1943 Jolles translation. Consider the more modern versions and other relevant books shown below.

Book Cover, ON WATERLOOOn Waterloo: Clausewitz, Wellington, and the Campaign of 1815. Ed./trans. Christopher Bassford, Daniel Moran, and Gregory W. Pedlow (, 2010). ISBN: 1453701508. This book is built around a new and complete translation of Clausewitz's study of the Waterloo campaign [Berlin: 1835], a strategic analysis of the entire campaign (not just the Battle of Waterloo), and the Duke of Wellington's detailed 1842 response to it. Clausewitz's Der Felzug von 1815 was written late in his life and its findings were never incorporated into On War, so most readers will find it new material.

Jolles translation, book coverBuy the best translation—recommended for serious readers. The Book of War (The Modern Library, February 2000). ISBN: 0375754776. Clausewitz's On War and Sun Tzu's Art of War in one volume. The translation of Clausewitz's On War is the 1943 version done by German literary scholar O.J. Matthijs Jolles at the University of Chicago during World War II—not today's standard translation, but certainly the most accurate.

On War, Princeton ed.Buy the standard English translation of Clausewitz's On War, by Michael Howard and Peter Paret  (Princeton University Press, 1976/84). ISBN: 0691018545 (paperback). Kindle edition. This quite readable translation appeared at the close of the Vietnam War and—principally for marketing and copyright reasons—has become the modern standard.

Book coverDecoding Clausewitz: A New Approach to On War (University Press of Kansas, 2008). By Jon Tetsuro Sumida. ISBN: 9780700616169. *This is perhaps the most important recent book for anyone seeking to understand Clausewitz's thinking. Sumida contends that Clausewitz's central value lies in his method of reenacting the psychological difficulties of high command in order to promote the powers of intuition that he believed were essential to effective strategic decision-making. Sumida also correctly notes Clausewitz's argument that the defense is a stronger form of war, and goes on to explore the implications of that fact.


General Disposition of an Army


BETWEEN the moment of the first assembling of military forces, and that of the solution arrived at maturity when strategy has brought the army to the decisive point, and each particular part has had its position and rôle pointed out by tactics, there is in most cases a long interval; it is the same between one decisive catastrophe and another.

Formerly these intervals in a certain measure did not belong to war at all. Take for example the manner in which Luxemburg encamped and marched. We single out this general because he is celebrated for his camps and marches, and therefore may be considered a representative general of his period, and from the Histoire de la Flandre militaire, we know more about him than about other generals of the time.

The camp was regularly pitched with its rear close to a river, or morass, or a deep valley, which in the present day would be considered madness. The direction in which the enemy lay had so little to do with determining the front of the army, that cases are very common in which the rear was towards the enemy and the front towards their own country. This now unheard of mode of proceeding is perfectly unintelligible, unless we suppose that in the choice of camps the convenience of the troops was the chief, indeed almost the only consideration, and therefore look upon the state of being in camp as a state outside of the action of war, a kind of withdrawal behind the scenes, where one is quite at ease. The practice of always resting the rear upon some obstacle may be reckoned the only measure of security which was then taken, of course, in the sense of the mode of conducting war in that day, for such a measure was quite inconsistent with the possibility of being compelled to fight in that position. But there was little reason for apprehension on that score, because the battles generally depended on a kind of mutual understanding, like a duel, in which the parties repair to a convenient rendezvous. As armies, partly on account of their numerous cavalry, which in the decline of its splendour was still regarded, particularly by the French, as the principal arm, partly on account of the unwieldy organisation of their order of battle, could not fight in every description of country, an army in a close broken country was as it were under the protection of a neutral territory, and as it could itself make but little use of broken ground, therefore, it was deemed preferable to go to meet an enemy seeking battle. We know, indeed, that Luxemburg's battles at Fleurus, Stienkirk, and Neerwinden, were conceived in a different spirit; but this spirit had only just then under this great general freed itself from the old method, and it had not yet reacted on the method of encampment. Alterations in the art of war originate always in matters of a decisive nature, and then lead by degrees to modifications in other things. The expression il va à la guerre, used in reference to a partizan setting out to watch the enemy, shows how little the state of an army in camp was considered to be a state of real warfare.

It was not much otherwise with the marches, for the artillery then separated itself completely from the rest of the army, in order to take advantage of better and more secure roads, and the cavalry on the wings generally took the right alternately, that each might have in turn its share of the honour of marching on the right.

At present (that is, chiefly since the Silesian wars) the situation out of battle is so thoroughly influenced by its connection with battle that the two states are in intimate correlation, and the one can no longer be completely imagined without the other. Formerly in a campaign the battle was the real weapon, the situation at other times only the handle—the former the steel blade, the other the wooden haft glued to it, the whole therefore composed of heterogeneous parts,—now the battle is the edge, the situation out of the battle the back of the blade, the whole to be looked upon as metal completely welded together, in which it is impossible any longer to distinguish where the steel ends and the iron begins.

This state in war outside of the battle is now partly regulated by the organisation and regulations with which the army comes prepared from a state of peace, partly by the tactical and strategic arrangements of the moment. The three situations in which an army may be placed are in quarters, on a march, or in camp. All three belong as much to tactics as to strategy, and these two branches, bordering on each other here in many ways, often seem to, or actually do, incorporate themselves with each other, so that many dispositions may be looked upon at the same time as both tactical and strategic.

We shall treat of these three situations of an army outside of the combat in a general way, before any special objects come into connection with them; but we must, first of all, consider the general disposition of the forces, because that is a superior and more comprehensive measure, determining as respects camps, cantonments, and marches.

If we look at the disposition of the forces in a general way, that is, leaving out of sight any special object, we can only imagine it as a unit, that is, as a whole, intended to fight all together, for any deviation from this simplest form would imply a special object. Thus ari